Adequate sun protection is imperative for the overall look and health of your skin. Over one million people in the United States alone are diagnosed with skin cancer every year -- but this can easily be prevented with regular and consistent suncare practices.
However, there’s a lot of misinformation about sunscreen on the internet, so here we want to shed some light on this very important topic. By taking the proper steps to protect your skin against UV radiation, you can lessen your chances of skin cancer and other forms of skin damage. At the same time, you’ll also ensure that your skin looks its best at every stage of your life.
What Does Sunscreen Do for Your Skin?
A reliable sunscreen product protects your skin against two forms of ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight -- UVA and UVB light.
UVA rays penetrate deep into your skin to cause wrinkles and age spots, and are responsible for making your skin look older than it is. UVB rays, on the other hand, mainly affect the surface of your skin and cause sunburns. Both forms of UV radiation can be absorbed by the DNA in your skin cells, leading to mutations that can cause melanoma and other skin cancers.
But, when applied properly, sunscreens form a barrier between your skin and the sun to protect it against radiation damage.
Should Everyone Wear Sunscreen?
Experts and government agencies alike recommend sunscreen for everyone, as no one is exempt from the effects of sun damage.
But, different people will feel the effects of radiation to different degrees, depending on their skin type and other external factors.
People with fairer skin typically burn more easily and are more susceptible to skin cancer than those with darker skin. Those that take sun-sensitizing medications or skincare products should also take extra care with sun exposure. Talk with your doctor or dermatologist about your suncare practices if you’re taking one or more of these products regularly:
- Prescription drugs like isotretinoin or doxycycline
- Topical skincare products like retinol, benzoyl peroxide, or alpha-hydroxy acids
Making sunscreen a part of your everyday skincare routine will do wonders in protecting your skin from premature aging, skin cancer, and other risks.
Sunscreen Ingredients to Look Out For
There are two main types of active ingredients in sunscreen: chemical (or organic) and physical (or inorganic). Although there are a few differences between them, they both work to reduce the impact that UV radiation has on your skin.
Chemical ingredients work to absorb radiation from the sun and transform it into small amounts of heat. Filtering compounds like oxybenzone, octisalate, avobenzone, and octinoxate help protect your skin without leaving a visible white cast after application.
Meanwhile, the physical ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sit on the surface of your skin to reflect and scatter ultraviolet radiation. Although these ingredients don’t irritate the skin as much as chemical ingredients, they are more likely to leave white residue -- which is something to consider if you’ll be taking photos, for example.
However, both types of active ingredients are safe and effective for regular use. Many sunscreen formulations made today contain a combination of both chemical and physical ingredients; this usually provides you with more comprehensive protection than just one kind alone.
(Check out our guide on physical and chemical sunscreens to learn more about them.)
One thing to keep in mind when purchasing sunscreen: when possible, buy sunscreen that is made in the United States.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers all sunscreens sold in the US as drugs. This is because they claim to prevent sunburn as well as reducing the risk for skin cancer and other effects of UV radiation. Other countries, like those in Europe, market sunscreens as cosmetics so they are held to different regulations and standards.
So, when choosing your sunscreen, make sure that it provides you with as much protection as possible from the sun’s rays.
3 Mistakes You Might be Making with Your Sunscreen
Not wearing sunscreen every day.
Chances are, you feel the effects of the sun’s radiation every day -- even if it’s overcast or you’re indoors. In fact, up to 80% of UV radiation can still penetrate your skin on cloudy days.
Reflective surfaces like snow or water also increase your exposure to radiation, as they reflect light back to you. This also means that, even though you may not be exposed to direct sunlight, you should still continue to wear sunscreen.
UVA radiation can even pass through window glass, so the best protection you have from the sun is through regular application of a good sunscreen product (more on that below).
Using expired sunscreen products.
Just like the rest of your products in your skincare regimen, sunscreens have an expiration date. Most products will have the expiration date labeled somewhere on the container, but if not, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you replace them every three years.
However, if your sunscreen’s smell, color, or consistency changes before the three-year mark, you’ll want to toss it out immediately.
Sunscreen that has passed its expiration date won’t cause any harm to your skin, but you won’t reap the full benefits of it either. The active ingredients start to break down after a few years, which reduces the amount of protection you get.
Not storing sunscreen properly.
The active ingredients in your sunscreen also break down more quickly when they’re exposed to heat or light, so make sure to keep your container away from both when possible. Ideally, you want to keep your sunscreen below 77 degrees Fahrenheit; anything hotter than that, and your sunscreen will begin to degrade.
Taking your sunscreen to the beach? Wrap it in a towel and keep it in the bottom of your bag or under the shade of your umbrella. Alternatively, you can keep it in a cooler to better regulate the temperature around the product.
3 Tips on Using Sunscreen Effectively
Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
Look for products specifically labeled “broad-spectrum” or ones that clearly state that they provide protection from UVA and UVB radiation. All products with the “broad-spectrum” label have passed the FDA’s broad-spectrum test; however, other countries may not have such strict regulations so you’ll want to take extra care when shopping for sunscreens made elsewhere.
Choosing a sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) between 30 and 50 will also give you better protection from the sun’s radiation. Products with over SPF 50 only provide a minimal increase in sun protection, so it’s better to apply sunscreen more effectively than to use sunscreens with a very high SPF.
Don’t depend on skincare or makeup products that contain minimal SPF, either. Foundations or tinted moisturizers with SPF 15 do provide some measure of sun protection, but it’s not enough to adequately protect your skin from sun damage. It’s best to combine them with an actual sunscreen formulation with at least SPF 30.
Apply sunscreen early and regularly.
Sunscreen can play a huge factor in sun protection, but only if it is applied properly. This means you’ll need to use it consistently to get the most out of it.
First, you’ll want to apply your sunscreen at least 30 minutes before being exposed to the sun. Your skin can take up to 30 minutes to fully absorb the product, so being exposed to sunlight before then will still cause damage to your skin.
Next, ensure that your entire body is liberally covered with sunscreen as well -- especially if you’ll be exposed to direct sunlight for an extended amount of time. Use an ounce of sunscreen (about the size of a golf ball or a shot glass) to cover your body. Don’t forget about your ears, back of your neck, feet, and the backs of your hands either!
You’ll also want to use about a quarter-sized dollop for your face. Apply this as the final step in your daytime skincare routine and before makeup to ensure you’re getting the most protection.
Because sunscreen wears off, make sure to reapply another ounce of sunscreen every two hours or less. If you’re swimming, sweating, or staying in the sun for a long time, reapply every 60 to 90 minutes instead.
One study shows that applying sunscreen twice before exposing yourself to sunlight gives you the most sun protection; this is because many people don’t apply sunscreen properly the first time. So, by regularly reapplying sunscreen, you cover all your bases and ensure that every inch of your skin is fully protected.
If you’re wearing makeup and don’t want to redo your face every few hours, don’t worry. There are sunscreens that are specially formulated for these situations -- look for setting sprays or powders with SPF added to them.
Combine sunscreen with other forms of sun protection for best results.
As much as we encourage you to use sunscreen every day, the fact is that many of us will not apply it effectively enough to ensure complete UV protection. That’s why you’ll also want to consider adding other forms of sun protection when you’re out and about.
Wear hats with a wide brim, sunglasses that offer UV protection, and tightly-woven long sleeve shirts and pants. Choose lip balms formulated with SPF 30 or higher. And when possible, avoid venturing out between 10AM and 4PM, when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
Sun damage accounts for up to 90% of all premature skin aging. But by following these tips, you can lessen the amount of damage caused by UV radiation and prevent your skin from looking and feeling older.
Shop our collection of sunscreens and tinted moisturizers to find the product that works best for your skin and your lifestyle. All of our sunscreen products offer at least SPF 45, to ensure that you get the most protection possible from your suncare.